Can Fish Oil Supplements Help With Muscle Pain?

You've just finished a workout and a few hours later you start to feel the aches and pains of muscle soreness beginning to set in. It's a familiar scenario, yet not always cause for concern. Rather, that immediate "burn" one feels after a bout of intense exercise can be a sign that your muscles are getting stronger. In other cases, however, muscle pain that follows physical activity can be the result of trying a new exercise, doing an exercise incorrectly, or a signal that you may have overdone it during your workout.

Usually, muscle pain can be treated with a combination of rest, icing the area, use of over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, and some light stretching, according to experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine. However, there are also some lesser-known remedies for muscle pain relief that you may not be aware of, and one of them — fish oil supplements — may already be residing in your medicine cabinet.

Fish oil may reduce perceived muscle pain

Containing the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, fish oil comes from the tissues of fish such as mackerel, tuna, salmon, and more (via Merck Manual). Often taken as a capsule, fish oil supplements may have certain health benefits to offer, such as improved mental health, relief of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, and protection against coronary heart disease, just to name a few.

Even more, a 2022 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found a potential link between fish oil supplementation and pain relief from muscle damage incurred from exercise. Over the course of the four-week study, 14 male participants were given either a collagen placebo or 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids daily. Both groups took one capsule in the morning, one at lunch, and one in the evening time. 

After the four weeks, participants engaged in one hour of downhill running, after which they self-reported their perceived degree of muscle soreness. Those who received the fish oil supplements reported feeling significantly less muscle soreness in the 24 hours following the exercise than the placebo group. The omega-3 group also displayed decreases in markers of inflammation (via Georgia State University).

The optimal dose of fish oil to take daily

So how exactly does fish oil go about reducing muscle soreness in the body? Dr. Trisha VanDusseldorp, assistant professor of exercise science at Kennesaw State University, told PopSugar that the pain that characterizes muscle soreness is the result of inflamed muscle cells bearing down on nerve endings. However, fish oil can potentially relieve this inflammation and related pain.

For those interested in fish oil supplementation, the optimal amount to take is between 2 and 4 grams each day. For professional athletes, up to 6 grams daily may provide marginally greater benefits. However, it's important to note that fish oil supplementation is not an instant fix for muscle pain. Rather, it may take up to six weeks before one begins to see results. "You have to load the body with it," explained Dr. VanDusseldorp.

While fish oil may harbor some unique superpowers when it comes to our health, it's always best to consult with your doctor before beginning any new supplementation regimen.